By Carrie McGuffin
The first-ever Consultant Summit sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was held this week in Decatur, Ga. More than 30 church consultants came together to fellowship and find common ground with another.
“We value our partnership with each of you,” Bo Prosser, CBF Coordinator of Organizational Relationships, told the group. “You are extensions of our ministry. You are partners with us in this ministry.”
During the opening session, the group heard from Greg Jones, senior strategist for leadership education and professor of theology at Duke Divinity School, a CBF partner. Jones’ presentation was titled “Thinking Strategically in the Midst of Change.”
Jones, who served as dean of Duke Divinity School from 1997 to 2010, is a widely-recognized scholar on subjects including Christian vocation, leadership and how to strengthen a congregation and its ministry.
He addressed the group, focusing on deep trends found in society that affect the way Christian leaders do ministry, highlighting the example of his friend, Maggy Barankitse, a Burundian Christian leader and innovator who founded Maison Shalom in Burundi in the wake of a civil war.
Through Barankitse’s story, Jones emphasized the need for “theological imagination” and the importance of building a new ecosystem from the ground up. He explained that this idea of theological imagination and innovation also takes root in Christian history and has significantly shaped modern Christian institutions—now it is our challenge to reclaim this identity as the innovative and creative institution that we as the church once were.
Jones challenged the group to consider cultivating a new imagination that takes into account the deep trends of society so that Christian institutions do not find themselves in a rut.
“We need to recapture that spirit of love and invention that has been at the forefront of Christian innovation,” Jones urged.
He stressed the necessity of cultivating communities—not just churches in isolation from infrastructure—part of the larger ecosystem.
In tackling this challenge, Christian institutions face the ingrained managerial mindsets and old ways of functioning, he explained. These are comfortable places in which to stay, but they are also places where institutions can quickly find themselves 10 or more years behind the times.
In this time of deep cultural transitions, the church cannot become stuck within these old models, nor can they focus on technical change and reacting to fads, as this leads to a misdiagnosis of what the church is really facing. “If we’re not reclaiming that sense of innovation and not doing it in faithful and theologically rich ways, we are going to be behind the curve,” emphasized Jones.
The new normal in our rapidly changing culture is this: challenges are less foreseeable and knowledge is less reliable. Jones asked, “How do we deal with that?” and responded that Christian institutions must recognize the deep trends society faces, how they are shaping the world and how to get ahead of them to do impactful ministry.
Jones highlighted 7 trends that Christian leaders should be thinking about and engaging:
• The Digital Revolution
• Multinodal World/Globalization
• Reconfiguring Denominations and Emerging Forms of Congregating
• Questioning Institutions
• Economic Stress on Christian Institutions
• Shifting Vocations of Laypeople
• The Lure of Cities
These trends impact not only our congregations and communities, but they impact one another—changing the ways that the people within our congregations and communities are looking at the capacity for interconnectedness, creativity, ways of congregating and learning and beyond.
He emphasized that these seven deep trends together do not drive us to any particular solution, and challenged the group to consider how to move forward to find “both/and” winning-kinds of solutions for Christian institutions facing such cultural change.
His challenge was not to come away with a cookie-cutter solution, but to figure out the solutions that use our Christian imagination to change the world.
As those of us within religious institutions see the changes around us and become aware of the deep trends, Jones’ challenge comes as both daunting and hope-filled. In thinking theologically beyond our church walls and denominational structures, we are able to use our Christian convictions as catalysts for change toward collective impact—but this requires us to think globally, invest in diversity, encourage creativity and embrace change. This requires being inventors through Christ-like love.
For these partners of CBF to come together to think theologically about cultural changes shows the commitment of leadership throughout the network of the Fellowship to be on the forefront of doing ministry well in our fast-paced world.
For more on Jones and thinking strategically in the midst of cultural change, watch his 2014 presentation on this same topic to the CBF Ministries Council here.
The two-day CBF Consultants Summit concludes Friday, March 6, and features sessions updating the group on CBF’s ministries and mission efforts, including Peer Learning Groups, Partnerships and Advocacy, Global Missions and Dawnings—CBF’s congregational renewal initiative.